w@rn by Helen Nelder

writer / director's note

In many ways domestic violence is a difficult subject to dramatize. The more research I did, the more I realised that we could not cover all the issues, answer all the questions or represent the different sections of society who may have been victims of violence. Nevertheless I felt it was important to persist in trying to convey what it feels like to be in this kind of relationship, so I had to make some difficult choices about what to include and more significantly perhaps what to leave out.

I have only touched upon why women, as represented by the character Sarah, stay in violent relationships. The keynote, is terror, not surprising when "women are most at risk of life threatening or fatal violence when they have left their violent partners" (Strauss 1988). They may have to face further assaults, homelessness, poverty and losing their children. However, 80% of women eventually leave their violent partners for good and never go back into a violent relationship, a tribute to their courage and resourcefulness under immensely difficult circumstances and a surprisingly high figure given the common perception that all women tend to stay in these relationships forever.

I also did not explore why some men hit women. In the play we don't really learn why James hits Sarah. Before I devised the play I had assumed that violent men came from violent backgrounds or it was an anger problem. This is not the case! "It is a chosen behaviour, a direct purposeful act. This does not explain why men chose to hit women in private, rather than hitting or abusing others in public….Perpetrators abuse to control, not because of a loss of control." (Women's Aid Federation of England Information Leaflet 1998, Surrey 1998) The leaflet goes on to say, "There is not one type of family in which domestic violence/abuse occurs, just as there is not one type of man who abuses women. Domestic violence/abuse crosses all boundaries, social, economical, professions, religious and cultural and might happen to your sister, mother, colleague or neighbour."

So, as there isn't a typical male who abuses it becomes very difficult to explain why some men hit women. For every possible reason I could think of I felt that there would be men in very similar circumstances, who did not chose and never would chose, to hit women. It undermines the majority of men who do not behave in this way to give superficial reasons. Although I have an understanding of the socio/political perspective of the difficulties of being male in a society where gender roles are rapidly changing, it was a little tricky to dramatize. Again, I feel it would need a different play to explore this complex issue and it would need very careful handling in order to avoid justifying the violence.

If you would like a simple answer to the question "Why do some men hit women?" it is that historically and socially, they can. Sergeant Linnet of the Racial and Domestic Violence Unit in Crawley explained that if perpetrators are arrested after the second or third incident they are less likely to re-offend. So until it is perceived as a crime by the perpetrator, and the victim, statistically he is likely to continue with increasing frequency and severity, to abuse. The law has only recently changed so that the onus is no longer on women to prosecute.

I finally chose to represent a middle class woman's experience of domestic violence for several reasons. Firstly, as a middle class woman who has experienced a violent relationship I felt it would inform the play (although what the character goes through is far worse than my own experiences, the feelings were similar). Secondly, approximately 90% of reported cases of domestic violence in the UK is perpetrated by men on women (CH4 'Dispatches' January 1999, a programme about male victims of female violence.) Thirdly, there tends to be an assumption that domestic violence is just a working class problem and I wanted to dispel that myth. Finally, I felt that tackling issues of female violence, violence in gay and lesbian relationships, in ethnic minorities, travelling women, the disabled, older women, younger women, women and men working in the sex industry, drug/alcohol abusers, mental health patients, working class ……well as you can see the list goes on! I did not want to take a superficial approach to these groups - they each deserve plays of their own. Having said that, although the ingredients of those experiences may be slightly different, the recipe is the same, it adds up to a feeling of inadequacy, humiliation and mostly fear: fear of leaving; fear of not being believed, fear that you are over reacting, and fear of being thought of as weak and stupid for allowing someone to treat you that way. In devising this play I hope to convey how it feels to be in this kind of relationship, in the end it had to be that simple.

It has been difficult to revisit that part of my past that I rarely admit to. I am indebted to my cast and crew who have been outstanding in their support and encouragement for me to speak up in this way.

Helen Nelder, June 2000